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In the Same Series 




S. L. Bbnsusan. 
S. L. Bensusan. 
C. Lewis Hind. 
C. Lewis Hind. 
Alvs Evre Macklin 
Henry B. Binns. 
Lucien Pissarro. 
George Hay. 
James Mason. 
Josef Israels. 
A. Lvs Baldrv. 
Paul G. Konodv. 
Mary E. Colbridgb 
S. L. Bensusan. 
A. Lys Baldry. 
George Hav. 
Max Rothschild. 
.S. L. Bensusan. 
James Mason. 
Edgcumbe Stalby. 
Percy M. Turner. 
M. W. Brockwell. 
S. L. Bensusan. 
T. Martin Wood. 

In Preparation 

vig£e le brun. 












C. Haldanb MacFall. 
A. Lys Baldry. 
S. L. Bensusan. 
Percy M. Turner. 
W. H. James Wbalk. 
Herbert Furst. 
C. Haldane MacFall. 
C. Lewis Hind. 
James L. Caw. 
Paul G. Konody. 
C. Haldane MacFall. 
C Lewis Hind. 
S. L. Bensusan. 

And Others. 


OF HENRY IV. Frontispiece 

(In the Louvre) 

The Princess is seen to great advantage in this fine portrait. The 
fair complexion of the sitter is remarkably preserved, the white ruff, 
the jewels, and the gold brocade are very cleverly handled. Another 
portrait of Princess Elizabeth, painted in Madrid, may now be seen 
in St. Petersburg. 


BY S. L. BENSUSAN ® ® ® 







I. Introduction ii 

II. The Painter's Life . . . . .21 

III. Second Period .. = ... 35 

IV. The Later Years ...... 45 

V. The Painter's Art . . . . . -55 



I. Elizabeth of France, Daughter of 

Henry IV Frontispiece 

In the Louvre 


II. Christ a la Faille 14 

At Antwerp Museum 

III. The Four Philosophers .... 24 

In the Pitti Palace, -Florence 

IV. Isabella Brandt 34 

In the Wallace Collection 

V. Le Chapeau de Faille . . . . 40 

In the National Gallery 

VI. The Descent from the Cross ... 50 

In the Cathedral, Antwerp 

VII. Henry IV. leaving for a Campaign . 60 

In the Louvre 

VIII. The Virgin and the Holy Innocents . 70 

In the Louvre 


THE name of Peter Paul Rubens is 
written so large in the history of 
European art, that all the efforts of de- 
tractors have failed to stem the tide of 

appreciation that flows towards it. Rubens 



was a great master in nearly every pictorial 
sense of the term; and if at times the 
coarseness and lack of restraint of his 
era were reflected upon his canvas, we 
must blame the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries rather than the man who worked 
through some of their most interesting years, 
and at worst was no more than a realist. 
There may have been seasons when he 
elected to attempt more than any man 
could hope to achieve. There were times 
when he set himself to work deliberately 
to express certain scenes, romantic or 
mythological, in a fashion that must have 
startled his contemporaries and gives 
offence to-day; but to do justice to the 
painter, we must consider his work as a 
whole, we must set the best against the 

Consider the vast range of achievements 


(At Antwerp Museum) 

Whatever the Biblical story Rubens chose, he handled it not only 
with skill, but with a certain sense of conviction that is the more 
remarkable in one who owed no allegiance to the Church. There is 
fine feeling and deep reverence in the " Christ k la Paille," in addition 
to the dramatic feeling that accompanied all his religious pictures. 
The colouring, though very bold, is most effective ; in the hands of a 
less skilled painter such a display of primary colouring might well 
have seemed violent or even vulgar. 


that embraced landscape, portraiture, and 
decorative work, giving to every subject 
such quality of workmanship and skill in 
composition, as none save a very few of 
the world's great masters have been able 
to convey to canvas. And let it be re- 
membered, too, that Rubens was not only a 
painter, he was a statesman and a diplomat ; 
and amid cares and anxieties that might 
well have filled the life of any smaller man, 
he found time to paint countless pictures 
in every style, and to move steadily forward 
along the road to mastery, so that his 
second period is better than the first, in 
which he was, if the expression may be 
used with propriety, finding himself. The 
third period, which saw the painting of the 
great works that hang in Antwerp's Cathedral 
and Museum to-day, and is represented in 
our own National Gallery and Wallace 


Collection, was the best of all. Passing 
from his labours as he did at a comparatively 
early age, for Rubens was but sixty-three 
when he died, he did not suffer the slow 
decline of powers that has so often ac- 
companied men who reached their greatest 
achievements in ripe middle age and shrink 
to mere shadows of a name. He did not 
reach his supreme mastery of colour until 
he had lived for half a century or more, 
and the pictures that have the greatest 
blots upon them from the point of view of 
the twentieth century, were painted before 
he reached the summit of his powers. It 
is perhaps unfortunate that Rubens painted 
far too many works to admit of a truly 
representative collection in any city or 
gallery. The best are widely scattered; 
some are in the Prado in Madrid, others 
are in Belgium, some are in Florence. 


Holland has a goodly collection, while 
Antwerp boasts among many masterpieces 
"The Passing of Christ," "The Adoration 
of the Magi," "The Prodigal Son," and 
"The Christ k la Paille." Munich, Brussels, 
Dresden, Vienna, and other cities have 
famous examples of both ripe and early art 
that must be seen before the master can 
be judged fairly and without prejudice. It 
is impossible to found an opinion not likely 
to be shaken, upon the work to be seen in 
London or in Paris, where the Louvre holds 
many of the painter's least attractive works. 
It may be said that Peter Paul Rubens is 
represented in every gallery of importance 
throughout Europe, that the number of 
his acknowledged works runs into four 
figures, and that there are very few without 
some definite and attractive aspect of treat- 
ment and composition that goes far to atone 



for the occasional shortcomings of taste. 
For his generation Rubens sufficed amply. 
He was a man of so many gifts that he 
would have made his mark had he never 
set brush to a canvas, although time has 
blotted out the recollection of his diplomatic 
achievements or relegated them to obscure 
chronicles and manuscripts that are seldom 
disturbed save by scholars. To nine out of 
ten he is known only as a painter, and his 
fame rests upon the work that chances to 
have given his critics their first view and 
most lasting impression of his varied achieve- 
ments. It may be said that among those 
who care least for Rubens, and are quite 
satisfied to condemn him for the coarseness 
with which he treated certain subjects, 
there are many who are prompt to declare 
that in matters of art the treatment is of 
the first importance and the subject is but 


secondary. However, Rubens is hardly in 
need of an apologist. His best work makes 
him famous in any company, and there is 
so much of it that the rest may be disre- 
garded. Moreover, we must not forget that 
the types he portrayed from time to time 
with such amazing frankness really existed 
all round him. He took them as he found 
them, just as the earlier painters of the 
Renaissance took their Madonnas from the 
peasant girls they found working in the 
fields, or travelling to the cities on saint 
days and at times of high festival. Many 
a Renaissance Madonna enshrined on canvas 
for the adoration of the devout could remove 
the least suspicion of sanctity from herself, 
if she did but raise her downcast eyes or 
smile, as doubtless she smiled in the studio 
wherein she was immortalised. For the 
artist sees a vision beyond the sitter, and 


under his brush the sanctification or pro- 
fanation of a type are matters of simple and 
rapid accomplishment. If another Rubens 
were to arise to-day, he could find sitters 
in plenty who would respond to the treat- 
ment that his prototype has made familiar. 
Perhaps to the men and women with whom 
he was thrown in contact, these creations 
were interesting inasmuch as they afforded 
a glimpse into an under-world of which 
they knew little or nothing. The offence 
of certain pictures is increased by the fact 
that, when Rubens painted them, he had 
not attained to the supreme mastership over 
colour, and inspiration of composition, that 
came to him in later life. But in a brief 
review of the artist's life and work enough 
has been told of the aspects upon which 
his detractors love to dilate. It is time to 
turn to his brilliant and varied career, and 


note the incidents that have the greatest 
interest or the deepest influence upon his 
art work. 



Peter Paul Rubens was born in ad. 1577, 
at Siegen in Germany, where his father, Dr. 
John Rubens, a man of great attainments, 
was Hving in disgrace arising out of an old 
intrigue with the dissolute wife of William 
the Silent. But for the necessity of shield- 
ing the reputation of the House of Orange, 
there seems no doubt that John Rubens 
would have paid the death penalty for his 
offence. It is curious to reflect that, had 
he done so, Peter Paul would have been 
lost to the world, for the intrigue would 


seem to have occurred in the neighbourhood 
of the year 1570, while Peter Paul was not 
born until seven years later. When the 
child was one year old the Rubens family 
was allowed to return to Cologne, where 
John Rubens had gone on leaving Antwerp 
in 1568. Here Peter Paul and his elder 
brother, Philip, were brought up, in utter 
ignorance of the misfortunes that had be- 
fallen their father, whose death was recorded 
when his famous son was nine or ten years 
old. After his decease the boys' mother 
decided to return to Antwerp, where her 
husband in his early days had enjoyed a con- 
siderable reputation as a lawyer, and held 
civic appointments. Although much of the 
family money must have been lost, perhaps 
on account of the fall in values resulting 
from the terrible war with Spain, there 
would seem to have been enough to enable 


(In the Pitti Palace, Florence) 

This picture was probably painted in Italy. The man sitting 
behind the table with an open book before him is Justus Lipsius the 
philosopher. To his left is one of his pupils, and on the right we see 
Philip Rubens, pen in hand, and Peter Paul himself standing up 
against a red curtain. 


the widow and her two sons to Hve in com- 
fort, if not in luxury. Peter Paul was sent 
to a good school, where he made progress 
and became very popular, probably because 
he was strikingly handsome, considerably 
gifted, and very quick to learn. 

At the age of thirteen school-days came 
to an end, and the boy became a page in 
the service of the widowed Countess of 
Lalaing, whose husband had been one of 
the governors of Antwerp. Here, at a very 
impressionable age, Rubens obtained first his 
acquaintance with and finally his mastery 
over all the intricacies of courtly etiquette. 
In quite a short time he became a polished 
gentleman, in the sixteenth-century accepta- 
tion of that term. But the instinct to study 
art already developed made the duties of 
a page seem tiresome and unattractive, and 
we learn that the boy importuned his mother 


to be allowed to study painting. Apparently 
he had shown sufficient promise to justify 
the request, and he was placed, first under 
an unknown painter named Verhaecht and 
then under Adam van Noort, with whom 
he remained four years before passing to 
the studio of Otto van Veen, a scholar, a 
gentleman, and a painter of quality. The 
life here would seem to have developed 
in Rubens many of the qualities that were 
destined to bring him fame and great re- 
wards. By the time he was twenty, the 
Guild of St. Luke in Antwerp received him 
as a member, and a year later he received 
an appointment from the city to assist his 
master in some civic decorations. So the 
glittering years of his first youth passed, 
happily, prosperously, and uneventfully, and 
when he was no more than twenty-three 
Peter Paul Rubens turned his steps towards 


Italy, then, as Paris is now, the Mecca of 
the pilgrim of the Arts. 

If we wish to find some explanation 
for the splendid colouring that makes the 
masterpieces of Rubens the delight of every 
unprejudiced eye, we may surely be content 
to remember that he saw Venice with the 
enthusiastic eye of twenty-three in the year 
1600. Even to-day when Venice, vulgarised 
to the fullest extent that modern ingenuity 
can accomplish, has become no more than 
a remnant most forlorn of what it was, it is 
* one of the world's wonder cities. When the 
seventeenth century was opening its event- 
ful pages, the memory of wonderful achieve- 
ments was upon the great city of the Adriatic, 
it was still a power to be reckoned with. 
The season of pageants had not passed, and 
the luck that seemed destined to accompany 
Rubens throughout his career was in close 


attendance upon him here. The Duke of 
Mantua, Vincenzo Gonzaga, saw some of 
his work, and was so struck by its quahty 
that he sent for the young painter. The 
man seemed worthy of his creations, and 
the Duke promptly offered him a position 
in his suite, an offer too good to be decUned. 
Thereafter the sojourn in Venice was a 
short one. Mantua, Florence, and Genoa 
were visited in turn, and in Mantua, after 
some months travelling to and fro, the 
Court settled down, and Rubens was enabled 
to study the splendid collection of works 
that the city's rulers had collected. In the 
late summer of the following year Rubens 
would seem to have visited Rome, where 
he faced the terrible heat without any ill 
effect and devoted himself with untiring 
energy to a study of the work that is to 
be seen there and nowhere else. It would 


appear that he was well received by the 
leading artists of the day, that he made 
a friend of Caravaggio, and he was soon 
commissioned to paint an altar-piece for 
the Church of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem. 
The work, done in three parts, is now we 
believe in the possession of the French 
Government, and is to be seen in Grasse or 
one of the neighbouring towns of the Medi- 
terranean littoral. When Rubens' leave of 
absence expired — it must not be forgotten 
that he was in the service of Mantua's ruler, 
and was not his own master — he returned 
to the north, where the Duke would seem 
to have employed him for a time as an art 
expert. We may imagine that politics and 
art were closely connected, and that Rubens 
soon knew responsibility in connection with 
both. The work must have been very well 
done in each case, for rather more than 


a year later, when it became necessary in 
the interests of Mantua's political position 
to send a message to the King of Spain, 
Rubens was the chosen envoy. 

Nowadays the journey from Mantua to 
Madrid may be accomplished without ex- 
traordinary exertion in forty-eight hours, 
but three hundred years ago such a journey 
must have savoured of adventure, more 
particularly as the painter-diplomat was in 
charge of the splendid presents sent to 
Philip by the Duke. Nearly a year passed 
before Rubens returned to Mantua. His 
mission executed, he was rewarded with 
the grant of a regular income, and after 
executing some more work at home to the 
complete satisfaction of his patron, he re- 
turned to Rome, this time in the company 
of his brother. 

They lived near the Piazza di Spagna, 


where the Roman models and flower-sellers 
congregate to this day, and tourists are as 
the sand upon the sea-shore for multitude. 
Philip Rubens, smitten by the weakness to 
which so many men have succumbed before 
and since, celebrated his journey by writ- 
ing a book. It was printed by the famous 
Plantin Press, with one of whose directors 
Peter Paul had been at school, and was 
illustrated by the artist. We may suppose 
that the work Rubens had done in Rome on 
the occasion of his earlier visit had satisfied 
its purchasers, for he received another com- 
mission for the Chiesa Nuova, but was 
recalled before it was completed, and taken 
to Genoa by the Duke of Mantua. However, 
he soon returned to Rome, where he remained 
until the close of 1608 and then left for 
Antwerp, where his mother, who had been 
living in that city for some years, was 


dangerously ill. Rubens does not seem to 
have known how ill she was, for he arrived 
in Antwerp too late to see her. She was 
a woman cast in heroic mould, most gene- 
rous of wives, most devoted of mothers. 

Perhaps the shock of her death awoke 
Rubens to the disadvantages attaching to 
the paid service of any man, perhaps he was 
beginning to realise his own quality and to 
know that he could stand alone. Perhaps he 
saw, too, that Italy had taught him as much 
as his years would allow him to assimilate, 
enough to make a man of mark in Antwerp. 
We have no certain information on these 
points, we can do no more than make sur- 
mises, but we do know that Rubens wrote 
to the Duke of Mantua, thanking him for all 
the favours and marks of confidence that 
he had received, and acquainting him with 
his decision to resign from his service. 

(In the Wallace Collection) 

Naturally enough Rubens painted many portraits of his first wife. 
There is the delightful work in the Pinacotek at Munich where the 
painter sits by her side, there are others in the Uffizi at Florence, and 
the great Hermitage Gallery at St Petersburg. 


With the return to Antwerp the era that 
opened with the visit to Venice eight years 
before comes to a close, and we enter upon 
the most strenuous period of the artist's 



Rubens carried an assured reputation 
with him to Antwerp. The story of his 
success had doubtless been spread through 
the town by people who were in touch 
with the Italian courts, and it is hardly 
likely that his elder brother Philip, now 
secretary to the Antwerp Town Council, 
and a man wielding considerable influence, 
had forgotten to tell the story of his 
brother's progress. Antwerp was in the 
early enjoyment of a period of peace follow- 
ing disastrous war, and it was quite in 


keeping with the spirit of the times that 
the leading citizens, who had taken a 
prominent part in the world of strife, should 
now turn their thoughts to the world of art 
and should endeavour to take their part in 
the friendly competition that all prosperous 
cities waged against one another in their 
pursuit of beauty ; and this competition led 
to the enriching of churches and council- 
chambers with the finest ripe fruits of con- 
temporary art. Antwerp had established 
a circle for the exclusive benefit of those 
who had travelled in Italy, because it was 
recognised on all sides that the best mental 
and artistic development was associated 
with Italian travel. Rubens was admitted 
at once to the charmed circle on the 
initiative of his friend Jean Breughel, the 
animal painter, with whom Rubens colla- 
borated in a picture that may be seen to- 


day at the Hague, and is called "The 
Earthly Paradise," a quaint medley of two 
styles that cannot be persuaded to har- 

Peter Paul lived with his beloved brother 
Philip, to whose influence we are probably 
justified in tracing the first two commissions 
that were given to the young painter. One 
was to take part in the work of re-deco- 
rating the Town Hall, the other was to 
prepare an altar-piece for the Church of 
St. Walpurga. For the Town Hall Rubens 
painted the first of his long series of 
"Adorations," and though it is emphatically 
one of the works of his first period, and is 
far from expressing the varied qualities 
that have given him enduring fame, it 
created sufficient sensation in Antwerp to 
bring him the position of Court painter, 
with a definite salary and a special per- 


mission to remain in the city of his choice. 
Had he been a lesser man he would have 
been called away to attend the Court in 

Undoubtedly Rubens was a patriot, a 
man to whom the fallen fortunes of his city 
appealed very strongly. We must never 
forget that the endless wars stirred up by 
Spanish ambition had roused the best in- 
stincts of patriotism the world over, and 
though Rubens was not a warrior, he was 
a statesman and a patriot, who knew that 
his hands and brain could serve his city 
in their own effective fashion, one in no 
way inferior in its results to that of the 
fighting men. Perhaps we may trace to 
all the mental disturbance of this era the 
artist's first great transition, for the Rubens 
who painted in Antwerp after his return 
from Italy and gave the " Descent from the 


(In the National Gallery) 

This is a portrait of Suzanne Fourment, a sister of the painter's 
second wife, painted when the sitter was about twenty-one years old. 
The serenity of the girl's mind is admirably expressed in this sparkling 
work, and is one of Rubens' successful essays in portraiture. Another 
study of Suzanne Fourment may be seen in Vienna. 


Cross" to his city, is quite a different man 
from the one who painted the earUer pic- 
tures. He has matured and developed, has 
completed the period of assimilation through 
which all creative artists must pass, has 
gathered from the talents, from the genius 
of the men he has studied, the material for 
founding a style of his own. He begins to 
speak with his own voice. 

It is well that Rubens' industry was on 
a par with his talents, for commissions 
poured in upon him in the first years of 
his return from Italy. They came not 
singly but in battalions, and very soon we 
find Peter Paul Rubens following the fashion 
of his time and establishing a studio 
school. Naturally enough there were plenty 
of young men who wished to become his 
pupils, and plenty of old ones who had just 
missed distinction and were anxious for 


any work that was remunerative. Rubens 
realised that if he could but turn their 
gifts to the best advantage they would at 
least be as valuable to him as he could 
be to them. Consequently he responded to 
the suggestions that were made to him on 
every side, and gathered the cleverest un- 
attached men of his city to the studio, 
giving each one his work to do. Let us 
place to his credit the fact that there was 
no disguise about this procedure, it was 
open and unabashed. Rubens would even 
send pupils to start a work that had been 
commissioned, and would not appear on the 
scene until the first outline of the picture 
was on the canvas. Then he would come 
along and with a few unerring strokes cor- 
rect or supplement the composition, to 
which his pupils could pay their further 
attentions. Rubens received high prices 


for his work, but would give his name to a 
picture in return for a comparatively low fee, 
if the purchaser would but be content to 
have his design and leave the painting to 
pupils. It may be said that Rubens was 
always fortunate in his selection of assist- 
ants, just as he was fortunate in other 
affairs of life. The great Vandyck was 
among those who worked in his studio, 
Snyders the celebrated animal painter was 
another; it is said that Rubens never 
touched his work. 

Like the Florentine painters of the 
Renaissance, Rubens was by no means 
satisfied to devote himself entirely to paint. 
He had been greatly impressed during his 
sojourn in Italy by the extraordinary beauty 
of the palaces of Genoa — a beauty, be it 
added, that charms us no less to-day when 
time has added its priceless gifts to the 


architects' design. Rubens published a book 
on the Genoese palaces, with something 
between fifty and one hundred drawings of 
his own, most carefully made. He found time 
to make illustrations for the famous Plantin 
Press, to which we have referred already. 
He superintended the work of engraving 
his own pictures, and in short showed him- 
self a man competent to grasp more than the 
common burden of interests, and to deal with 
them all with a rare intelligence coupled 
with sound business instinct. Although the 
painter's education had not been great, he 
had acquired scholarship at a time when 
classical education was considered of the 
very highest value, and no man who lacked 
it could claim to be regarded as a gentle- 
man. He maintained correspondence with 
friends in the great cities of Europe, and 
as he had great personal attractions and a 


perfect charm of manner with which to 
support his industry and achievements, there 
is small need to wonder at his progress. 
Success would indeed have been a fickle 
jade had she refused to surrender to such 



When the painter had passed his fortieth 
year he received a commission from the 
Dowager Queen Maria de Medici to paint 
certain panels for her palace in Paris, and 
in order to see them properly placed and 
to get a comprehensive idea of the scheme 
of decoration, he betook himself with the 
first part of his finished work to the French 
capital. There is no doubt that Rubens was 
already regarded in the governing circles of 
Antwerp as something more than a painter. 


His relations with the ruling house had 
brought him into touch with diplomatic 
developments — he had handled one or two 
with extreme tact, delicacy, and success. 
The Infanta Isabel relied upon him in seasons 
of emergency, and although the political 
value of his first visit to Paris in 1623 cannot 
be gauged, it is fairly safe to assume that 
his second visit to the capital two years 
later was far more concerned with politics 
than paint. To put before the reader a brief 
story of the complications of the political 
situation between France, Spain, and the Low 
Countries would make impossible demands 
upon strictly limited space, but those who 
wish to understand something of the politics 
of his time may be referred to the works 
of Emile Michel and Max Rooses on Peter 
Paul Rubens and his time. They will find 
there far more historical and biographical 


matter than can be referred to in this place. 
Suffice it to say that from 1625 Rubens must 
be regarded as a diplomatist quite as much 
as a painter, but curiously enough the de- 
velopment of the political side of his life 
did nothing to destroy the quality of his 
painting. In fact he seems to have travelled 
along the road of diplomacy to his best 
and latest manner, to have seen life more 
clearly, and the problems of his art more in- 
telligently than before, to have brought to his 
work something of the quality that we call 
genius. The one gift that the gods denied 
him was poetic fancy, a quality that would 
have kept him from the portrayal of types 
and incidents that we are apt to regard, 
with or without justification, as ugly, that 
would have made his classicism pleasing to 
eyes that read it at its true value. But 
Rubens was one of the men who have to 


fight, not against failure but against success ; 
and the shrewd practical nature that made 
him what he was served as an effective 
barrier against acquisition of the qualities 
that would have lifted him to the region that 
always remained just beyond his reach. 

1628 was a very interesting year in the 
painter's life, for he was sent on a mission 
to the Court of Spain, where he met Velaz- 
quez, who was instructed to show him all 
the art treasures of the capital. What 
would we not give to-day for an authentic 
account of the conversations that these 
men must have held together? Rubens 
was at the zenith of his fame, if not of his 
achievement, Velazquez was unknown save 
in Seville and Madrid, and was fighting 
against every class of disadvantage on the 
road to belated recognition. Let those who 
sneer at Rubens and can find no good about 

(In the Cathedral, Antwerp) 

Here we have Rubens in his most realistic mood and in all his 
strength. Not only is the composition of a very complicated picture 
quite masterly and the colour scheme most happily distributed, but 
the contrast in the expression on the faces round the dead Christ is 
expressed in most dramatic fashion. The eye and the mind see the 
tragic drama at the same moment; although the subject had been 
treated hundreds of times already, the painter found it possible to 
give the theme a fresh and enduring expression. 



him, remember that he it was who turned 
Velazquez' attention to Italy. Rubens found 
time to paint portraits of several members 
of the rcyal family, and these works are fine 
likenesses enough, though they do not pre- 
tend to rival Velazquez' achievements in the 
same field. The diplomatic business was 
conducted with so much skill that Philip 
entrusted his visitor with a mission to Paris 
and London. In the last-named city Rubens 
was received by Charles I., who conferred a 
knighthood upon him, and approved of his 
commission to decorate the banqueting- 
chamber at Whitehall. 

Back again in Antwerp, Rubens found 
his talents sorely tried by the diplomatic 
developments in which the restless ambition 
of Maria de Medici involved all the countries 
subject directly or indirectly to her influence. 
He found himself compelled to go twice to 


Holland in the early thirties, but the death 
of the Infanta Isabel in 1633 removed him 
awhile from the heated arena of politics. 
Rubens prepared Antwerp for the visit 
of the Archduke Ferdinand, the Spanish 
governor, the city being decorated for this 
occasion at a cost of 80,000 florins. The 
work was so successful that the Archduke 
paid a special visit of congratulation to the 
artist, who was laid up in his room by an 
attack of gout. Two or three years later, 
some warnings that his strength would not 
hold out much longer availed to turn Rubens 
from the life of Courts and capitals, and he 
purchased for himself the Chateau de Stein, 
a very beautiful estate that is preserved 
for us by the delightful picture in the 
National Gallery. There he settled down 
for awhile to fulfil certain commissions for 
the King of Spain, and doubtless had he 


been permitted to remain in retirement his 
health would have been the better and his 
life the longer. But Antwerp could not 
dispense with the services of her painter- 
diplomat, and many a time when he would 
have been in his studio working at his 
ease, some urgent message from the city 
would drag him away. In the winter of 
1639 he passed some months in Antwerp, 
working as best he could in the intervals 
of severe attacks of gout. The King of 
Spain's commission was still unfinished, and 
some feeling that he himself would never 
be able to complete it led Rubens to engage 
a larger number of assistants than usual, 
and to content himself with directing their 
efforts and supplementing them as occasion 
arose. He seems to have known that death 
was near, for he made his will and pre- 
pared to meet the end. It came with May 


in 1640, when the painter was in the sixty- 
fourth year of a brilHant and useful Hfe. 

Rubens was twice married, first to Isabel 
Brandt, who became his wife when she was 
eighteen and he was thirty-two, shortly after 
his return to Antwerp from the service of 
the Duke of Mantua. A portrait of the two 
sons this wife bore him may be seen in 
Vienna. Isabel Brandt did not live to see 
her boys, Albert and Nicholas, grow to 
manhood. She died in 1626, some say from 
the plague that swept Antwerp in that year. 
Four years later the painter married the 
beautiful Helena Fourment, when he was 
fifty-four and she was sixteen, and she sur- 
vived him. He seems to have been a good 
and affectionate husband and father. In 
fact, it is hard to find among the bio- 
graphers of Rubens anybody who speaks 
ill of the artist as a man. 




Turning from a survey of Rubens' life to 
a consideration of his art, the three divisions 
to which his work groups itself naturally, 
are very clearly seen. Up to the time of his 
marriage with Isabel Brandt his work may 
be referred to the first division, and in art it 
may be said that no man's earliest pictures 
are of much consequence save for their 
promise of higher things. They do little 
more than mark his progress, record impres- 
sions he has received from strong person- 
alities, and mark his own path through the 
influences of different schools and varied 
appeals, to the complete expression of him- 
self. Rubens was never a slavish imitator, 
he never assumed the mantles of the men 
he admired, as so many great painters 


have done. Goya, for example, was a man 
whose range of thought and capacity for 
receiving impressions were so great that 
he has painted after the manner of half-a- 
dozen masters, and there are pictures to 
be seen in Madrid to-day that are painted 
with Goya's brush and recall Fragonard. 
Such instances may be multiplied, and 
Rubens is to be admired for the re- 
straint that marked this side of his early 

From the time of his marriage down to 
the season when he became recognised on 
all sides as a diplomatist, let us say roughly 
from 1610 to 1626, we get the second period, 
and to this may be referred the greater part 
of the work that has given offence — the 
presentation of the coarsest types of men 
and women in a state of nature — the treat- 
ment of some of the grossest incidents in 


mythological stories in fashion that leaves 
nothing to the imagination. 

We are justified in asking ourselves 
whether the extraordinary development of 
the painter's social and political life did not 
avail to arrest in late middle age any 
tendencies he might otherwise have had to 
express still further the coarser side of 
classical subjects. By the time he reached 
the forties, Rubens was the companion 
and even the trusted counsellor of princes 
and rulers. Such refinement as Western 
Europe boasted was to be met in the 
circles he frequented. The greatest work 
of the greatest masters was within his 
reach, and he had travelled to the point at 
which a man is able to select as well as 
to admire, at which he can distinguish clearly 
between the points that make for a picture's 
strength and those that detract from it. 


Rubens on arriving in Italy in the days 
when he had first taken service under the 
Duke of Mantua, was doubtless unduly im- 
pressed by Michel Angelo and Raphael. On 
no other grounds can we account for the 
delight that his earliest pictures manifest in 
the portrayal of massive and even ugly limbs. 
Doubtless he was influenced too by Titian, 
though we cannot agree that it was his 
admiration for the master that made him 
copy the King's Titians in the Prado, for 
it is. more probable that on this occasion he 
simply obeyed instructions. Moreover, Rome 
appealed to him more than Venice did. 
The wistful purity of a Bellini Madonna, 
the exquisite loveliness of a Bellini child or 
cherub, left him unmoved, but a Titian or a 
Tintoretto at its biggest, if not at its best, 
pleased him, and when he came in Rome 
to the works of Raphael and Michel Angelo 



(In the Louvre) 

Here the painter, leaving mythology and allegory for a time, is 
seen in one of his most effective historical pictures, Henry IV., who 
is leaving for the war in Germany, is seen conferring upon his Queen 
the charge of the kingdom. 


he would seem to have looked no further for 
inspiration. Doubtless he heard many inter- 
esting theories of art in Rome, where, as we 
have said, Caravaggio, who wielded consider- 
able influence in the art world, was among 
his friends. But Rubens thought out things 
for himself, and learned to quell his own 
instincts and to subdue his own faults as 
they were revealed to him. 

Violence is perhaps the characteristic of 
Rubens' early work. He has the grand 
manner without the grand method, his con- 
trasts of light and shade and even of colour 
amuse where they do not offend, and his 
drawing is by no means remarkable or 
inspired. At best it is correct. We feel that 
we cannot see the wood because of the 
trees, that the blending has not been suf- 
ficiently skilful to bring about proportion 
and harmony, and that the expression of a 


giant form with prize-fighter's muscles in 
the foreground of a canvas is sufficient 
to fill the painter with a delight that en- 
ables him happily to ignore the rest. It is 
the enthusiasm of clever youth, the youth 
of a man in whose veins there is enough 
and to spare of very healthy blood, in 
whose mental equipment refinement has 
been overlooked. 

The death of his mother, the distressful 
plight of his favourite city, the responsi- 
bility of his commissions, his marriage and 
the fruits of his Italian travel brought 
about the second period, and started the 
traditions that give Antwerp a school and 
a name in the history of European art. 
The violence passes slowly from the can- 
vases, the straining after effect that is so 
obvious and often so unpleasing in the 
earlier pictures goes with it. The chiaro- 


scuro is more subdued and consequently 
more pleasing, only in the handling of 
colour the painter is still clumsy and heavy. 
Rubens, the great colourist, seems to have 
been born when the artist was more than 
forty years old. 

Some of the best work of the second 
period is in Antwerp and Brussels, but it is 
to be found scattered all over Europe, and 
there are examples in private collections 
in this country. Perhaps the dominant im- 
pression that these v/orks leave is one of 
certain difficulties created to be overcome. 
Just as the painter in his first manner re- 
velled in his strength, so in his second 
period he rejoices in his skill. It was left 
to the later years to weld strength and 
skill into the service, on pictures that could 
stand for both and emphasise neither. 
Mythology continued to hold him, indeed 


we must never forget that Rubens lived 
in the age of pseudo-classicism, and is to 
be counted among its victims. To his 
second period belongs such work as the 
disgusting " Procession of Silenus " now in 
Munich, a picture in which the grossness 
of the theme is only rivalled by the vul- 
garity of the treatment. Some of Rubens' 
apologists have held that this class of 
work was painted as a protest against 
vice, but such apologies are far-fetched. 
Rubens needs no apologist. Consider his 
work as a whole, and what is good dwarfs 
what is bad. Doubtless, had he been able 
in the later days to re-possess and destroy 
some of his more tainted pictures, he would 
have done so. It will be remarked by all 
who know Rubens' work intimately, that 
throughout his life he was happier with a 
Venus than a Madonna, more at home 


with some great classical figure, than with 
the picture of Christ. He did not respond 
to Christianity in the sense that the Vene- 
tians responded to it, he could not for all 
his reputation have painted a Madonna as 
Bellini did, and there is no reason to 
believe that he would have cared to do so. 
Then again we may not forget that Rubens 
the artist, and Rubens the courtier, and 
Rubens the special envoy, were closely 
associated with Rubens the man of busi- 
ness, who would always have painted for 
choice the work likely to find immediate 
acceptance. There were times when some 
legend of Saint or Martyr moved him 
strangely, and he turned to it with a mea- 
sure of inspiration not often excelled by 
the greatest of the Renaissance artists ; 
but these occasions were rare, although 
Antwerp preserves one of the most effective 



results of such inspiration in the "Last 
Communion of St. Francis." It may be re- 
marked in this place that to see Rubens 
at his best, one must not go to the 
National Gallery or to the Louvre or to 
the Prado — Antwerp and Vienna hold some 
of the finest examples of his second and 
third manner. And we must never forget 
that Art is concerned with treatment, and 
that subject is of secondary interest to 

When he became recognised as a dip- 
lomatist whose services were required by 
Europe's greatest potentates, Rubens had 
passed the meridian of life. He had known 
prosperity from the very earliest days, he 
had no occasion to paint pictures of the 
sort so admirably summed up by the offen- 
sive word "pot-boiler." Kings and Queens 
and Emperors were offering him commissions, 


he was, if we may say so, on his best be- 
haviour. He rose to the height of every 
great occasion. The commission that Maria 
de Medici gave him for her palace seems 
to have brought him to his third and latest 
manner, and from that year until death 
overtook him Rubens was one of the great 
masters of European art. If we could eli- 
minate all the pictures of his first manner 
and a considerable portion of those belong- 
ing to his middle period, his claims would 
hardly be denied by the representatives and 
supporters of any school. He seems to 
have received added inspiration from his 
child wife, and there are few more delight- 
ful pictures than one to be seen in Munich 
in which Rubens and Helena Fourment are 
walking from their garden to their chateau. 
Perhaps even in the later days woman was 
nothing more than a thing of beauty for a 


man's delight, and man was no more than 
a godhke animal, but a well-defined mea- 
sure of refinement was always beyond their 
painter's mental or artistic conceptions. It 
is sufficient for us that the appeal of nature 
came to him with great strength. The 
Chateau of Stein in our National Gallery 
and the Rainbow Landscape in the Wallace 
Collection gives sufficient evidence of this, 
while such a work as the Garden of Venus 
in the Prado suggests the limitations that 
were with him throughout his life. It is 
fair to say that in the later years they 
were not expressed so prominently in his 

Finally we have to consider and ac- 
knowledge his triumphs as a colourist. It 
may be said that Rubens, for all his gifts, 
required more than twenty years of unremit- 
ting labour to obtain his mastery over colour, 


(In the Louvre) 

In tliis picture Rubens allows his brush to run away with him as 
though for sheer joy in its capacity. Perhaps his study of the Virgin 
is a little commonplace, a little too suggestive of the exuberance of 
Flanders rather than the refinement and spirituality of Nazareth. 
But the studies of the Holy Innocents are a delight, and make the 
canvas supremely attractive. It will be seen that the grouping of 
the children results in every possible difficulty that an artist may 
have to face, but that Rubens has encountered them all with sure, 
hard, and steady eye, in fashion worthy of Tintoretto himself. 


but when once it was his he retained the 
gift to the last hour. In the early days 
Rubens as a colourist was a person of no 
importance, the grossness of his composition 
and the tameness of his drawing were not 
redeemed by the handling of pigment. In 
the second period the use of paint is far 
more skilled, but it does not blend, neither 
does it glow. In the later years it acquires 
both gifts, and the exquisitely luminous 
quality of some of his pictures, the mar- 
vellous delicacy of flesh tint, that must 
have astonished and delighted his patrons, is 
preserved to us to-day. In fact it may be 
said that Rubens has preserved his colour 
to a larger extent than many great painters 
who came after him. He is far more reliable 
in this aspect of his art than is our own 
Sir Joshua, whose portraits have long ceased 
to tell the story they must have told to 


delighted and flattered sitters. It was no 
effort of genius that made Rubens a 
supreme colourist in the later years. He 
came to his kingdom by dint of sheer hard 
work, but for his painstaking devotion to 
labours such results could not have been 

The spirit of the Renaissance travelled 
very slowly from Italy to the Netherlands, 
and that its influence was felt in the six- 
teenth century did not lead to any very 
marked divergence from the traditions that 
the art of the Netherlands was following. 
Italian form and Italian sentiment met with 
little response there, and there is no doubt 
that the eighty years of conflict with Spain 
which led to the recognition of the Re- 
public, turned men's thoughts away from 
art. By the time it was possible to revive 
a school, the Netherlands were looking to 


life rather than to faith, and even the 
classicism of the period that turned Rubens 
towards pictures illustrating mythological 
incidents could not help him to create ima- 
ginary figures. This is as it should have 
been, for it made eighteenth-century art 
what it was through the influence of 
Rubens and Vandyck. He filled his canvas 
with the types he saw around him, and 
while nobody will dispute the virtue of the 
Netherlands, there will be few found to 
assert that it produced the Latin type of 
womanhood. The people of the Nether- 
lands do not belong to the Latin races; 
that is why they did not respond earlier to 
the Renaissance, that is why they look at 
what seems to be their worst rather than 
their best in some of Rubens' most ambitious 
works. Yet by reason of his long sojourn 
and hard study in Italy, Rubens did do 


something considerable to bring Italian art 
and tradition into the Netherlands, and if 
he could not establish it there, the cause of 
failure was that the genius of the country 
was opposed to it. Among the painters 
who worked for Rubens or were greatly in- 
fluenced by him the best known are Anthony 
Vandyck, Frans Snyders, Abraham Jans- 
sens, Jacob Jordaens, and Jan Van Den 
Hoecke. Then again, of course, it must 
not be forgotten that he exercised a very 
great influence upon David Teniers, and 
that he served the interests of art develop- 
ment far more than he could have done by 
giving fresh life to an art form that had 
served its time and purpose. 

Rubens the landscape painter, the painter 
of religious and mythological subjects, has 
rather obscured Rubens the portrait painter, 
and this is not as it should be, for many 


will be inclined to agree that it is as a 
portrait painter that Rubens was often at his 
best. Visitors to Florence will not forget the 
portrait group entitled ''The Philosophers," 
that may be seen in the Pitti Palace. 
Our Wallace Collection has a delightful 
portrait of Isabel Brandt, and the National 
Gallery holds the portrait of Suzanne Four- 
ment, '' Le Chapeau de Paille," while Amster- 
dam and other cities hold portraits of his 
second wife, the famous portrait of Gervatius 
is to be seen in Antwerp, and there are 
several delightful examples of his portraiture 
in Brussels. It was in these schools of art 
that Rubens has succeeded in pleasing 
many who turn with feelings not far re- 
moved from disgust from his unshrinking 
studies of the coarse overblown or over- 
grown womanhood. He contrived either 
to confer a measure of dignity upon his 


sitters or to conserve one. His portraits 
of his two wives, and the portrait group in 
the Pitti Palace that introduces his brother, 
are full of a deep feeling for which we may 
look in vain to many of his larger can- 
vases. Just as the pianist or violinist will 
turn from playing some wonderful concerto 
bristling with difficulties for the soloist and 
calculated to delight the ears of the ground- 
lings, and then taking up some simple piece 
by a great master will infuse into it all 
the qualities that the showy concerto hid, 
so Rubens turned from the wars and 
loves of gods and goddesses, from Bacchic 
carnivals and groups in which nudity is in- 
sisted upon sometimes at the expense of 
relevance, and would paint portraits that 
will be a delight as long as they remain 
with us. Rubens painting the portrait of 
wife or brother or friend, and Rubens 


covering vast canvases with glittering and 
sometimes meretricious work are two dif- 
ferent men. We may admire the latter, 
but we come near to intimate appreciation 
of the former. In the portraits the man is 
revealed, in the big pictures we see no 
more than artist, and some of us fail to 
realise how clever he is, how many prob- 
lems of composition and tone and light 
and shade he has grappled with and over- 
come in manner well-nigh heroic. 

The secret of his changing moods is of 
course beyond us, but perhaps one may 
hazard an explanation for the difference 
in the quality of the work done. As far as 
we can see from a study of the painter's 
work and life, he approached mythology 
and Christianity from a purely pictorial 
standpoint, and did not believe in one or 
the other. "The Procession to Calvary," 


"The Crucifixion," "The Descent from the 
Cross," "The Flight into Egypt," "The 
Adoration of the Magi," "The Draught of 
Fishes," "The Raising of the Cross," "The 
Assumption of the Virgin," "The Last 
Supper," "The Circumcision," "The Flagel- 
lation," and the rest, were no more and no 
less to him as subjects than "The Drunken 
Hercules" or "The Battle of the Amazons," 
"The Garden of Venus" or "The Judg- 
ment of Paris." They were popular subjects 
for effective treatment, pictures that would 
make a sure appeal to those who loved either 
the sacred or the profane in art, pictures to 
be executed with all possible skill at the 
greatest possible speed, and with a measure 
of assistance regulated by the price that 
was to be paid for them. But the portraits 
of his friends, of the brother he loved, and 
of the wives to whom he was a devoted 


husband, stood on quite a different plane. 
He felt the human interest attaching to 
them, and this human interest brought to 
his canvas certain qualities that belong to 
the heart rather than the head, and have 
given them a claim that is not disputed 
even by the painter's most severe critics. 

The plates are printed by Bemrose &' Sons, Ltd., Derby and London 
The text at the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh 




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